From-scratch pie crust can be intimidating. At holiday time each year we field lots of questions about the best ways to make it.
Here are some of The Post’s tips and tricks, gleaned from the pros.
1. Store-bought ought be a last resort. In 2009, the Food section compared store-bought crusts with homemade ones. Brands such as Pillsbury and Marie Callender’s racked up meager scores in our official taste test. The consensus: Run to the supermarket if you are in a pinch, but don’t set your expectations too high.
2. The food processor is your friend. Former washingtonpost.com blogger Kim O’Donnel put together a comprehensive guide for flaky crusts in 2008. Her advice to beginners: Use a food processor to work cold, diced butter into a mixture of chilled flour, baking soda and salt, by pulsing until combined.
3. Remember the secret ingredient. O’Donnel uses acidulated water to achieve a tender yet flaky crust: one tablespoon of cider vinegar and five tablespoons of water. Tiffany MacIsaac, executive pastry chef for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, opts for vodka, which provides initial moisture in the dough and then evaporates to eliminate sogginess..
4. Don’t skimp on the butter. MacIsaac likewise recommends that when it comes to butter, go for a premium, high-fat content brand, which contains less water and thus will help produce a good-textured crust.
Seattle area’s Kate McDermott of Art of the Pie, a distinctive voice in the pie world, uses butter and rendered leaf lard. The latter is an ingredient worth tracking down, because it yields reliably flakiness.
5. Don’t just bake, blind-bake. Both MacIsaac and O’Donnel recommend blind pre-baking. After lining the pie pan with dough, place a second foil pan or parchment paper over the dough then fill or cover it with raw rice or dried beans.This helps weight the dough. The step keeps the crust from rising or buckling.
6. Don’t over-blend. McDermott urges her pie-class students to pay close attention to how the dough feels and comes together. Pieces of lard and dough should be visible, and a minimal amount of ice water should be used.
“You’ll know when the dough is working,” she says.
More from the 2012 Holiday Guide: